Friday’s release of a transcript of Bruce Ohr’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee revealed several new tidbits. It also raised serious concerns that fake claims of collusion pushed by Glenn Simpson and Democratic opposition research shop Fusion GPS prompted the launch of not one, but two federal investigations: the Russia collusion investigation and investigations into the National Rifle Association (NRA).
During his day-long testimony last August, Ohr, then an associate deputy attorney general, explained his involvement—or non-involvement, if he is to be believed—in the Russia-collusion investigation. Ohr testified that he knew former MI6 spy and dossier author Christopher Steele for more than a decade and was acquainted with Steele’s boss, Fusion GPS head Simpson, for many years.
Ohr further explained that from July 30, 2016 until November 2017, both Steele and Simpson provided him “intel” related to supposed collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign. Ohr then passed this information on to the FBI, where it was used to, among other things, obtain FISA court orders to surveil and otherwise target the Trump campaign team.
But in an abbreviated aside, Ohr causally revealed one communique with Simpson that indicates the Fusion GPS founder pushed another false story that unleashed multiple federal investigations into the NRA.
During questioning, Ohr stated that Simpson mentioned “that Cleta Mitchell became aware of money moving through the NRA or something like that from Russia.” Ohr added that Simpson claimed that Mitchell—a D.C. attorney specializing in campaign-finance law and a former member of the NRA board of directors—“was upset about it.” But when asked how Simpson found out about Mitchell, Ohr testified, “I don’t think he said.”
Ohr’s testimony confirms that Simpson holds responsibility for peddling this fake story about the NRA and Mitchell that later made its way to the FBI and congressional investigators. House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff even called Mitchell out by name in the “Minority Report” he issued upon the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) announcement in March 2018 that it was shutting down its Russia investigation.
In the “Minority Report,” Schiff condemned what he called HPSCI’s premature closing of the Russia investigation, claiming the House committee should have interviewed “individuals or groups who were involved in or may have knowledge of third-party political outreach from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, including persons linked to the National Rifle Association (NRA),” such as Mitchell.
Schiff described Mitchell as “a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP” who “conducted work for the National Rifle Association (NRA), and may be able to clarify for the Committee any Russian-related approaches to and interaction with the organization and persons of interest to the Committee during the 2016 election.”
On the heels of Schiff’s report, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon ran an article at McClatchy claiming two unnamed sources “familiar with the matter” said Mitchell had concerns about the NRA’s “ties to Russia and its possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”
Mitchell stated point-blank that the accusation was false, and the blog Powerline published the series of email exchanges between Mitchell and the McClatchy authors: “No. I have no knowledge of anything like this and zero concerns whatsoever about anyone—Russians or otherwise—who ‘funneled’ funds to / through NRA,” Mitchell told Stone via email. “Anyone who says otherwise is lying. [The] NRA is meticulous about following all the rules,” the former NRA Board member added. Mitchell also stressed that she “had zero involvement with the NRA since [her] board term expired in 2012.”
A month later, in April 2018, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also contacted Mitchell seeking “records of her contacts with specified Russian and Russian entities.” Mitchel promptly responded, stating she had “no information about any of the individuals referenced in your letter.”
Mitchell continued: “Whatever stories Glenn Simpson, Dan Jones, and other operatives associated with Fusion GPS, have told your staff about me, they are lying. They have made false statements regarding my knowledge, or role, or information in my possession related to the persons listed in your letter – none of whom had I ever heard of before reading their names in the erroneous news reports falsely accusing me of having some information that you now think I have. The story is false and you are wrong. I have nothing whatsoever to say on this topic other than it is a lie, completely fabricated and concocted by Glenn Simpson & Co. You should be pursuing them for perjury and for making false statements to congressional investigators.”
Mitchell told The Federalist that, following her response, she has heard nothing further from the Senate intelligence committee. Mitchell also said she had never been interviewed by the FBI.
While Simpson’s tip led to no further inquiry into Mitchell, two weeks after McClatchy ran its story on the supposed illegal donations by Russians to the NRA, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden asked the NRA “for documents and other information about possible Russian contributions to the NRA to support the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.” Wyden also sought from the Treasury Department “any documents relevant to financial links between the NRA” and Russian officials.
The Federal Election Committee is also reportedly investigating the NRA to determine whether it received illegal campaign contributions from Russians seeking to benefit the Trump presidential campaign. Likewise, Special Counsel Robert “Mueller is reportedly interested in whether the Kremlin tried to funnel money through the gun lobby as part of its pro-Trump attack on the 2016 election.”
All of these investigations into the NRA have as their genesis a story Simpson told to DOJ attorney Ohr. “This lie, started by Glenn Simpson telling Bruce Ohr, who then peddled it to the FBI, who then did what?” Mitchell asked rhetorically, “Opened an investigation into the NRA?”
“So some scumbag like Glenn Simpson can get the FBI to open an investigation by just making things up? It is appalling. And frightening,” the long-time campaign-finance attorney told The Federalist.
Instead of investigating the NRA, “Glenn Simpson should be prosecuted for making a false statement to a federal agent, Bruce Ohr, knowing and expecting that Ohr would take the information to the FBI,” Mitchell said in a weekend interview. “Simpson should also be prosecuted for lying to Congress because Simpson peddled this same false story to Adam Schiff and the Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.”
Mitchell is right. Simpson and others who pushed false claims of Russia collusion to the FBI and DOJ should be prosecuted. The failure to do so will only embolden political operatives and establish that there is no downside to reporting fraudulent information to the FBI.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.